Sink or swim, garbage is ending up in the ocean, and contrary to belief, most does not float. But before we can talk about cleaning up the garbage in the ocean, we need to know what is actually floating around out there. The garbage in the ocean is both organic material that is biodegradable and a lot of plastic, which will either float or sink, most sinks. So how do we clean up all this garbage in the ocean or at least stop adding to it? A Lot of people believe the use of biodegradable or sustainable packaging is the answer, So why don’t all manufacturers just switch to that type of packaging? However, another question to ask is do all the biodegradable packaging actually break down and decompose without creating more problems, especially in the ocean?
One would think that an obvious solution to the plastic packaging garbage in the ocean would be to not use plastic to package our products or use bioplastics. Unfortunately packaging in plastic is cheaper than using biodegradable packaging, and big corporations are not about to put the planet before profit. But what about less packaging, smaller packaging, or at times no packaging. Do we really need those extra wrappers and bags around a product that has a wrapper already. Do we really need any packaging, but since Covid we have moved in the opposite direction using more plastic containers. I believe this is not due to protection from a virus but protection from liability and lawsuits. Less packaging or no packaging would be less money and higher profit, but with Covid, no one wants to take that risk.
Another alternative that people thought that would reduce waste is bioplastics that are made from plant materials instead of fossil fuels. However, to have these plastics properly breakdown and decompose they have to be processed through an industrial landfill, unfortunately landing in the ocean just makes them break down into microplastics that are easily consumable by marine organisms and difficult to pull out with nets during clean up missions. Thus to truly have a packaging that will break down it needs to be made from organic material that will decompose in salt water.
So what is the answer, how do we clean up the ocean and at the same time not contribute to the heaping piles already there? Clean up programs are already in place, but alot focus on the floating waist or waist that is close to the surface of the water. Probably because trying to reach the bottom of the ocean is not only difficult but requires expensive equipment. Research has shown that a lot of waste is at the bottom. So if it is easier to clean the surface garbage then why not use the plastics for packaging that are floatable or less dense than seawater. This would make clean up easier and infringe on fewer ecosystems in the ocean by keeping the garbage at sea level.
It has also been said that a lot of garbage in the ocean comes from 3rd world countries with few landfills or ways to properly dispose of their waste. So when we think about donating to these countries in their times of need maybe we should also consider after dropping off supplies that we collect the garbage from the previous donation or assistance. Perhaps not only do we need to help these countries feed and clothes their masses but consider how to dispose of the wastes of their masses.
There is no easy answer for cleaning up the mass garbage that has accumulated over the centuries in the ocean, but there are many alternatives now that we can not add to it. Clean up programs have begun, but to be successful we need to quit adding to the problem and quit putting profit before the planet. Thus in this case if hope and plastic doesn’t float then that sinking feeling we have about the earth’s future may become a reality.
Arizona State University